In this post, I am going to argue that for me, 2006 and 2007 were the best years for films in my entire life. In order to do so, I must fully admit that this list is particularly subjective and that there exists objectively better years for films (eg 1982). 2006 and 2007 were the years many of my favourite films were released, and I saw a ridiculous amount of them in the theatre — unlike 2010-2012, where my theatre attendance dropped dramatically. Thus, here is a select list of films (chronologically) from those years with sparse commentary. Ultimately, I hope to choose one of the two years by the end of this post. We shall see.
March 10: The Hills Have Eyes
Alexandre Aja had previously blown me away with Haute Tension, so I was very excited to see this film. After exiting the theatre, I remember reflecting that this was one of the few horror movies where I was elated by a happy ending. Traditionally, I'm a fan of nihilistic misanthropic horror, but here was a film where the filmmakers had convinced me to care for the cast.
March 24: Inside Man
The only Spike Lee film I've ever seen in a theatre, and easily my favourite film by him. Hands down, one of the most stylish and visually engaging heist films ever put to screen
May 5: Mission Impossible III
Until 2011's Ghost Protocol, this one had been my favourite: a spy film that makes relative sense, had realistic physics and a villain that was utterly hypnotic, thanks to Philip Seymour Hoffman.
July 7: Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest
Not only my favourite Pirates film, but one of my most cherished films of all time. It's a combination of many factors: the ridiculous scale of it all, the inclusion of the Kraken, Bill Nighy's performance as Davy Jones, the labyrinthine plot, the humour, everything. I had such an adoration for the second and third Pirates film that I barely watch the first one. It's not nearly as ridiculous.
July 28: Miami Vice
This is one of the rare instances where the theatrical version of the film is vastly superior to the so-called Director's Cut. Ever since loving the film during the theatre experience, I've struggled to re-watch Michael Mann's stylish naturalistic crime drama due to the unavailability of the theatrical cut.
August 4: The Descent
Neil Marshall's claustrophobic, taut stylish horror film is an anomalous example of the genre in that the first two thirds of the film are far more effective and memorable than the blood-soaked finale. Despite this, I remain a fan of the film to the point where I'm willing to give any of his other films a chance, despite being burned a couple times.
August 25: Beerfest
Many people prefer Super Troopers; I prefer Beerfest. It's a bit more focused in terms of plot, and the production quality appears significantly higher. Add to this a remarkable supporting cast and you've got my favourite Broken Lizard film.
September 1: Idiocracy
One of the meanest films I've ever seen. This is exactly how my sense of humour works.
September 8: Tom-Yum-Goong
This was released as The Protector in North America. The film is pretty spectacular, but the most memorable part of the film is the one-take ascent up the spiral staircase. The steadicam operator follows Tony Jaa as he breaks, beats and obliterates a whole host of stunt men. It's an exhilarating moment in film.
October 6: The Departed
Where to start with this film? Suffice it to say that one of the films that I use as a barometer of someone's taste is this movie. If I ask somebody what they thought and they say they hated it, I'm fully prepared to never speak to them again. Almost a perfect film (save for the heavy handed symbolism at the very end).
October 20: The Prestige
While The Dark Knight remains my favourite Christopher Nolan film, this magic stage show starring Batman and Wolverine is particularly highly regarded by yours truly. It's a combination of mystery and stage magic that brings me back time and again. Plus, a bizarre performance from the Thin White Duke as Tesla doesn't hurt.
November 3: Borat
I refuse to copy and paste the full title. This movie had such a huge impact in my social circle. This was akin to The Hangover's impact years later. Borat's quotes and movements seeped so deeply in our consciousness, it was hard to escape the film. However, it's still a fearless and hilarious piece of comedy.
November 17: Casino Royale
The best Bond film ever made. Indisputably.
November 22: The Fountain
Despite being cut to shit by the studio, Darren Aronofsky's masterpiece is such a transcendent film experience. I haven't watched it in years, so I'm due for another go-around in the bizarre fractured timeline, but I remember quite clearly being blown away by the imagery and the emotion.
December 25: Children of Men
To me, there's nothing more attractive in a film than a confident director willing to shoot something in an interesting and daring way. This movie features some of the ballsiest one-take shots in the history of film. And the plot is good, too!
Unspecified date: Ne le dis à personne
Guillaume Canet directed this incredibly tense thriller about a man searching for his missing wife. I hardly remember the plot, but I remember the experience, the tautness, the breathless pace, the suspense. One of the most exciting films of the decade. Hopefully it's not neutered into an American remake.
January 12: Alpha Dog
A remarkable surprise. I had no idea that this little crime flick would boast such an incredible cast and a dark philosophy. Based on a true story and utterly hypnotic.
January 26: Smokin' Aces
A great many people seem to dislike this movie. I had a great time watching it and it's a film that you can always watch when you can't think of anything else to do.
February 16: Breach
It's a tragedy that Billy Ray hasn't directed another film. Breach is the exact type of spy film that I'd like to make: complex (ethically and narrative), engaging, emotional, and to top it all off, based on a true story. A commanding performance from Chris Cooper, to boot.
March 2: Zodiac
Hands down my favourite Fincher film. An exacting and mesmerizing portrait of obsession and even a challenge about narrative conventions and audience expectations.
April 20: Hot Fuzz
Commanding parody and loving tribute to American cop films. It's the revelation of the council's motives that propels this film into classic status.
May 25: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End
While it's not the same level of insanity as the previous installment, I quite like the 3 hour finale to the trilogy. It's got the requisite amount of emotion and humour, and the plot is nigh on incomprehensible. A fantastic end to the series.
June 8: Ocean's Thirteen
For some reason, I prefer the third one. Maybe it's because there's no Julia Roberts or romance. It's just plot and jokes. And Al Pacino.
June 27: Live Free or Die Hard
I'm pretty embarrassed about liking this movie. It's so stupid that it's entertaining.
July 20: Hairspray
I'm a sucker for musicals, and I'm a sucker for black humour. I've never seen the original, which certainly makes me a poor film fan, but there you have it. I love the songs and I still sing them. Plus, the movie is consistently funny and engaging.
August 3: The Bourne Ultimatum
The only film series in the history of film where each subsequent installment improves on the previous — that is, until they ruined the streak with the fourth one. Up to that point, this film is the pinnacle of American action film: politically complex, visually stimulating, and emotional resonant. I hold this movie in very high regard.
October 5: Michael Clayton
I really liked this movie, even though I've only seen it the one time. I need to re-watch this.
October 19: Gone, Baby, Gone
If you had said to me that Ben Affleck would go on to direct two masterpieces back to back, I would have scoffed. Just the year before, I had voraciously read all of Lehane's novels, so I was already familiar with the plot of this film — which normally detracts from the experience, but in this case, I was simply sucked in. This was an incredibly confident and successful movie — and a debut!
November 2: American Gangster
At this time in my life, I thought Ridley Scott was pretty much perfect. To me, this was his last good film: an exploration of the differing meanings of the American dream as well as an interrogation of the African American experience throughout the latter half of the 20th century. Plus, it has some gripping performances.
November 9: No Country for Old Men
Another instance of already read the book, but it didn't detract from the film's impact. In fact, I was glad that I had read the book, so I could let the Coens' vision wash over me. Just an amazing film.
November 21: The Mist
I saw this film in a special screening and during the introduction, the media personality said that the ending was something unlike any other. I didn't know what to expect going into the film, but I remember after the ending — and this was the only time this ever happened to me — the lights went on and nobody moved for a few minutes. We all just sat in silence and contemplated what we had seen. Even if this movie had ended differently, less nihilistic maybe, I would have still been a huge fan. It's pulpy, it's scary, it's funny, and it's just plain mean.
December 7: Atonement
A tragedy that this didn't win any major awards. Joe Wright's visual eye is unparalleled. He's an utter genius.
Certainly, I saw more films than this in 2006-2007. I haven't listed a bunch of films that were good, but not great. Many films didn't quite manage to be spectacular (The Simpsons Movie, Transformers, Spider-Man 3, etc) but were still a good time at the theatre. But this is a list for those that mean a lot to me.
Despite cataloging the two years, I'm struggling to select one of the two years as definitive. I think 2006 had more films I liked, but 2007 had fewer, but better films. It's a tough call. I can't think of any other year that can even come close to this. Scanning the list, a pattern seems to emerge. It appears that the blockbuster seems to have come of age and settled into a paradigm that hasn't quite been broken yet. In years previous, blockbusters were awkward affairs, filled to the brim with uneven CGI and ghastly writing. Not that the writing has improved, but the efficiency of the sheer spectacle has to the point where I'm willing to forgive a lot of problems.
2006 and 2007 seem to be the end of the mid budget film, something many film critics are bemoaning in 2011-2012. Films like The Descent, Atonement, Alpha Dog, Smokin' Aces, and others appear to have gone the way of the dinosaur. I would be willing to argue that my attendance in the theatre is proportional to the prevalence of this mid-budget film. The less there are, the less I'm in the seats.
I've been nostalgic for these two years for the past little bit. I think it's because there have been sequels and remakes and reboots of these films and they're just not the same. The Bourne Legacy was atrocious, the fourth Pirates film lost sight of what made the previous ones so good, the new Spider-Man film was turgid and forgettable, etc etc etc.
Part of making this list is to investigate why I've stopped caring about movies so much in the past six years. I used to go to the theatre almost every week; in 2012, I went to the theatre less than ten times (two showings of The Dark Knight Rises). Is it because I've lost patience for Hollywood films? Is it because the films have decreased in quality? Have my tastes changed? Is it that the film market in Winnipeg isn't conducive to the types of films I'd like to see? I think it's a combination of all these things.
After assembling this list, I'm struck by how many were wide-release mainstream films. I've never been a film connoisseur; foreign films, if available, will be watched, but not with the enthusiasm of the Pirates films. Rather, I'm typically middle-brow in my tastes. I can enjoy the middle quite happily, as long as they have some skill and some intelligence.
I'm hoping that 2013 and 2014 will trump these two years, but I don't have a lot of confidence. If I had been 8 years old, 2012 would have been perfect: Batman, Avengers, James Bond, etc, but you can see that these are simply corporate symbols, products of a system so frightened by inventiveness and daring. 2006 and 2007 are already symptomatic of such a petty system. It stands to reason that we'll never see another 1982 ever again.
Until we do, I'll have 2006 and 2007.